Friday, August 18th, 2017

Mystics keep playoff hopes alive with 85-80 win over Mercury

Published on August 6, 2017

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Kristi Toliver. Photo: NBAE/Getty Images.

Kristi Toliver. Photo: NBAE/Getty Images.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The hungry “next man up” mentality paid off for the Mystics in a high-risk time of the season against the Phoenix Mercury. Both teams were committed to win this important matchup. The Mercury stood at fifth place in the league standings and the Mystics were right in front at fourth.

The top four seeds will get the advantage of a bye week to begin post season, prolonging their stay in the championship race. During the matchup on Sunday, both teams displayed aggression, but the Mystics’ long lasting defense helped them withstand the Mercury in the 85-80 win.

“For all of the stuff that was going wrong, that core group that was out there, particularly Kristi [Toliver], Krystal [Thomas], Emma [Meesseman] and Tierra [Ruffin-Pratt], just kind of played through all of the noise of the game,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. “Some of the calls weren’t going our way, and we just kind of hung with it and figured out a way to win.”

Both teams are without major players with Elena Delle Donne, Tayler Hill and Natasha Cloud all out with injuries for Washington and Mercury forward Brittany Griner out with a left knee bruise and right ankle sprain. The Mystics’ bench depth helped them find their rhythm early on.

“Teams are trying to cheat off [Tierra Ruffin-Pratt] cause she’s not a great 3-point shooter,” Thibault said. “She makes teams pay for that. She makes more cuts to the basket and drives more. She’s taking advantage of it. She’s been aggressive and her confidence is growing. TRP is one of the best defensive guards in the league.”

Ruffin-Pratt’s determination and hunger lit the Mystics’ fire early in the game. Most of her points were in the paint against Mercury’s Monique Currie and Angel Robinson. Against the Mercury, she finished with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists.

Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi was issued a technical at the 3:42 mark of the second quarter. The Mystics seemed to have a tough time keeping up through the tension, committing six turnovers and only shooting 35 percent in the quarter.

The Mystics’ ball movement came to an abrupt stop until the end of the second quarter when Kristi Toliver sunk a three pointer with 31.9 seconds left. Though abrupt and choppy, the Mystics left the first half with a 43-38 lead.

“I just stayed level headed,” Toliver said. “The message to the team was to stay grounded. They were trying to make things rough because it was the only way they were going to win. We kept our composure and got the win today.”

Toliver contributed a team-high 20 points, two rebounds and three assists. Her defensive skills kept Tausari shy of her usual 19-point average. The Mercury star finished with 16 points, three assists and two rebounds. Three other Mercury players were in the double digits, with guard Yvonne Turner coming up big time. She knocked down threes in keep the Mercury in position take the lead late in the final minutes. Turner finished with 15 points, eight coming in the final quarter.

“Coach told us at halftime to come out and be more aggressive,” Turner said on the last chance run. “I think second half we turned it up a notch. Rebounding they killed us and we just couldn’t finish it off.”

Late turnovers and insufficient rebounding put the Mercury in a tough place to close the game down the stretch. Washington’s abrasive performance in the paint helped them outrebound Phoenix 42 to 26. Without Griner, the Mercury are having a challenging time finding team chemistry to compensate for their injured big.

“It shows how much we miss her,” Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said. “Obviously, she’s a big part of what we do. I thought they just out-muscled us. They wanted it more than us.”

Washington only landed 15 of their 22 (62 percent) free throws. Krystal Thomas went to the line 10 times yet only completed three of her free throws. Though Thomas couldn’t establish her game offensively, she defended the glass with a team-high 16 rebounds.

Washington’s defense held the team together in the final minutes of the game. Toliver’s late jumper and Meesseman’s offensive rebound to secure the win shows her growth amongst the team. Her yearning for game-changing plays continues to keep the Mystics afloat in their playoff hunt.

“The maturity of Emma is starting to show,” Thibault said on the Meesseman’s growth. She’s asking for the ball in big moments and that puts pressure on people. Watching Emma stepping out and shooting after she’s missed some earlier [three pointers] and then hitting big a three is something she would’ve never done a year ago.”

Washington’s bench depth shows newcomers Allison Hightower and Haley Peters what they are expected to contribute to the Mystics in team’s playoff hopes. Hightower added six points and three assists to the win. With the win against the Mercury, the Mystics keep their fourth place in the WNBA standings and improve to 15-10. Their next test will be against the Indiana Fever at the Verizon Center.

“It gives us a two game [advantage] on them right now,” Thibault said. “Winning against teams like that, who are really good teams, gives you confidence especially when you’re shorthanded.”

The Mercury fall to 13-12 and remain in fifth place. The team continues its road trip with a game at Dallas on August 10.

Notes

  • The Mystics stay in 4th place in the overall and second in the Eastern conference
  • Biggest Lead: Mercury 2 Mystics: 9
  • Rebounds Mystics: 42 Mercury: 26
  • Points in the Paint: Mercury & Mystics: 20
  • 2nd Chance Points: Mercury: 15 Mystics: 12

This post is part of the thread: 2017 WNBA Season – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.


 

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